There’s the Latin music of Shakira, Ricky Martin and Enrique Iglesias, and then there’s the “real” Latin music, the music of people like Silvio Rodriguez, Milton Nascimento and Ruben Blades, artists who have made history by combining thoughtful, provocative lyrics with earthy melodies and complex polyrhythms. Argentinean songstress Mercedes Sosa is one of these unique and — in this country, at least — vastly underrated artists.
Sosa’s performance at Royce Hall amounted to a crash course in the beauty of South American folklore. There was the occasional bittersweet tango, a bunch of soulful Argentinean dances such as the chacarera and the samba (very different from its Brazilian counterpart), and a few hymns from the legendary era of the nueva cancion, the ’60s musical movement that attempted to change the world with its fiery words and unbridled idealism.
Sosa compiles her repertoire with a youthful ear for innovation that belies her 66 years and a penchant for powerful lyrics and easy-to-hum choruses. Because she is not a songwriter herself, she feels free to champion her favorite tunes, which she did often at Royce.
Her powerful pipes and Mother Nature persona gave a distinctive feel to all of the songs in the program, no matter how disparate their sources.
Although the show relied heavily on Sosa’s expected hits (Violeta Parra’s classic “Gracias a la Vida” and Nascimento’s “Maria, Maria” among them), she also showcased numbers from her latest album, 1999’s “Al Despertar.” Of these, Horacio Guarany’s “La Villerita,” the touching story of a 17-year-old prostitute from a Buenos Aires shanty town, was particularly effective.